The proposed Fairfax County schools budget released Thursday includes increased class sizes and the elimination of more than 700 positions to balance a projected deficit. Yet despite significant cuts, the budget also sets aside $41 million to provide a step increase for teachers.
Presenting the $2.5 billion draft budget for fiscal year 2015, schools Superintendent Karen Garza said the proposal was designed with the goal of protecting the classroom.
As a result, the budget largely spares student programs, and provides the salary bump Garza promised to county teachers earlier in the budget process. However, in the face of a projected budget shortfall of $132 million, balances had to be struck.
“We’ve been presented with a daunting task,” Garza said. “We’ve protected the classroom to the extent we possibly could.”
Still, the budget calls for increases in class size — by 0.5 students per teacher in elementary and middle schools and 1.0 student per teacher in high school — to save $15.2 million.
Elimination of more than 700 positions, ranging from assistant principals to needs-based staffing to central administrative posts and more, accounted for the bulk of the savings. More than 450 of these are classroom positions.
The school system also is adding more than 300 positions in other capacities, resulting in a net loss of about 400 positions. While the system hopes to achieve much of the shedding of positions through natural attrition and to find alternative placements for employees where possible, Garza did not rule out layoffs.
“We can’t help but affect our staffing ratios in order to make the reductions we need to make,” Garza said. “We are keenly aware of the effect that some of these cuts will have throughout our system.”
As it sits now, the proposed budget includes a 5.7 percent increase in funding from the county, the $98.1 million nearly triple the 2 percent transfer amount the Board of Supervisors promised.
The county holds the purse strings for the school system. If the Board of Supervisors does not approve the increase in funds, the school system will have a hole of more than $60 million to fill with additional budget cuts.
“We could not expect that the county would cover the complete shortfall,” Garza said. “We knew it would require efforts on both our parts. We needed to identify areas for cuts throughout the system.”
For now, student programs such as the Foreign Languages in the Elementary Schools program survived the chopping block. But the budget does propose charging student fees for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests, generating $4 million in revenue.
“We are calling upon county leadership,” Garza said. “We need their support now. Even as painful as these reductions are, without the increase in transfer things will be much, much worse.”
One area that could face the ax, and has in previous years, is the $41 million step increase in employee compensation. Teachers have received one step increase in the last five years, a 2 percent salary bump based on experience, in 2012.
However, Garza has made teacher salary a priority, and she said that the step increase is essential if Fairfax County is to remain a competitive employer for teachers amid the other school districts in the Washington, D.C., area.
Already, the average salary for teachers in Fairfax County ranks below those in Montgomery County, Arlington County and Alexandria, according to statistics from the Washington Area Boards of Education.
“We believe the step increase is essential to our system,” Garza said. “We’re losing ground in keeping our best employees throughout our system.”
The school system could see an increase in funds from the state. Gov. Bob McDonnell’s proposed budget would offer FCPS an additional $27 million in support. With that money, the school system would first halt its plans to charge AP and IB test fees, and also would hope to stem class size increases and reductions in needs-based staffing.